Selected books on rugby:
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Little Book of Rugby Legends
Little Book of Rugby Legends
Product details:

Author: Paul Morgan

Little Book of Rugby Legends

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 128


Rugby 2008
Historic Rugby
Product details:

Author: Barbara Stagg

Historic Rugby
Format: Softcover 
Pages: 127


A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union
A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union
Product details:

Author: Huw Richards

A Game for Hooligans: The History of Rugby Union

Format: Softcover
Pages: 304



from the start


"William Webb Ellis who with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time first took the ball in his arms and ran with it, thus originating the distinctive feature of the rugby game"
- Commemorative stone tablet at Rugby School

The first overstatement in rugby was probably the founding of the RFU (1871) without the word English or England appearing anywhere or conversely that rugby was never regarded as an export product. Scotland (1873), Ireland (1879) and Wales (1880) quickly followed suit but South Africa was the first country to which rugby was truly exported (SARB 1889) and New Zealand the second (NZRFU 1892). Australia and France appeared on the scene much later. Australia has in fact the oldest club outside the British Isles (Sydney University - 1864) but rugby was controlled regionally; first by the Southern Rugby Union later to be known as the New South Wales Rugby Union and the Northern Rugby Union who controlled Queensland (South Africa had been controlled in the same way during the early years - Eastern Province for instance started off with the Uitenhage RFU, the Port Elizabeth RFU, the Grahamstown RFU etc)

Rugby Unions however were all very well but who was eventually to be final arbitter? In 1884 an acrimonious dispute arose between England and Scotland because of a controversial try. Ireland suggested a neutral board to be set up to settle all future problems. At a meeting in Dublin (1886) Scotland agreed to accept the English victory if England in turn would agree to join an international board in which all four countries of Britain would have an equal number of representatives. England being the largest rugby playing country refused. Later in 1886 a meeting was held in Manchester where in spite of England's absence, a constitution was drawn up for the IRFB. Seeing the terms of the constitution, England would have none of it and suggested that the original dispute be put to impartial arbitration. The arbitrators decided overwhelmingly in favour of England which brought about a position where England was awarded 6 seats as opposed to Scotland, Wales and Ireland's 2 apiece. Which meant that England was in an unassailable position where they could never be outvoted. Through this England were able to dominate world rugby. Even though South Africa, Australia and New Zealand had direct representation to the Rugby Union they were not represented on the IRFB till 1948. But even then the three Southern hemisphere countries only had one seat each. This was increased to two in 1958 and France was only admitted in 1978 as the eighth number of the IRFB. Which meant that for more than 71 years (91 years as far as France was concerned) England ruled world rugby completely.


It was not until 1845 that the "Laws of Football as played at Rugby School" was sanctioned by a Levee of Bigside. In 1844 Rugby School's headmaster appointed a committee of eight to set out regulations for "the better observance of football". The committee submitted their 37 rules on August 28, 1845 which were passed and published in a tiny rule book which could be carried on the field of play.

It was only after the founding of the RFU in1871 that a concerted effort was made for uniformity of the laws and in 1875 the first change to scoring was made and in 1877 the law regarding reduction of players from 20 to 15 was passed. During the foundation year of the IRFB in 1886 points for scoring, the referee and umpires were introduced and finally in 1892 the referee was entrusted with complete control of the game.

Since 1892 revisions were more systematic but up to 1930 each union still had its own set of variations for home matches. The IRFB's laws were only compulsory for international matches.

A far cry from today's handbook of 36 Laws, "notes for the guidance of referees" and definitions. Yet  it remains one of the most contentious aspects of the game. It has been suggested by international coaches that the IRFB's Laws committee to be somewhat out of step with the modern game and instead of applying themselves to the basic need of the modern player and coach, laws are made, revised and even experimented with on a scale that has the average spectator and player completely flummoxed. If truth be told it has more than the average referee flummoxed.

The main controversy raging today are the different interpretations from country to country but especially from Northern to Southern hemispheres. It has for instance, less than in jest, been intimated by the Northern hemisphere countries that New Zealand are a law unto themselves.


One wouldn't believe it watching some games these days the the "object" of the game ought to be the easiest to understand. It is only some players and coaches who seem not to have read it in the book of Laws.

"The object of the game is that two teams of fifteen players each, observing fair play according to the Laws and a sporting spirit, should by carrying, passing and kicking the ball, score as many points as possible, the team scoring the greater number of points to be the winner of the match", says the law book.

Winning at all cost is however an addendum the rugby fathers never gave any thought to. Because of this, laws have changed to such a degree that we even saw the strange introduction of Soccer's yellow and red cards during the 5 nations matches on January 21 1995. "Fair play" and "sporting spirit" are gentlemanly words now virtually outmoded. Gamesmanship is of course quite acceptable, but the confines of the words are as elastic as the geography of the rugby world.


One can but quote the Rev Francis Marshall when he said in 1892: "It should never be forgotten that the schools taught the game and the old boys created football clubs".

The football clubs created by old boys in turn taught the game to schools in distant countries. That the game was enthusiastically accepted is proven by the dates rugby had already been played in the colonies:

South Africa 1854 - 1862
Australia 1864
New Zealand 1870
Canada 1871
Fiji 1884

The military were in most instances responsible for rugby getting a foothold outside Britain and clubs were started by expatriates who had either left to seek their "fortune" - as they did with the diamond and gold rushed in South Africa - or graduates from universities in Great Britain accepting professional posts in the colonies. In South Africa an ex-Winchester College student and Oxford graduate the Rev (later Canon) George Ogilvie introduced "rugby" at the Diocesan Collegiate school where he had taken up a post as headmaster. English wine merchants for instance are believed to have introduced the game into France as early as 1870 playing a match in Le Havre.

Rugby immediately attracted virile young men and once they had sampled this new sporting pleasure could not do without it once they had left their homeland. It proved to be export-worthy. Small wonder therefore that England could as early as 1887 play overseas tests against those whom they had taught.


The place-kick and the drop-kick were part of the game virtually from the beginning. During those early years the inherent object of the game was to kick a goal. The try which counted only one point (as opposed to the goal's two points) was in fact almost as insignificant as with Australian Rules. A goal according to the revised Laws which was published in 1862 was "a kick through or over between the posts". This was expanded on in 1866 when it was added that "a goal may be dropped in the course of the game by any player over his adversary's goal. A goal to be placed either after a touch down in goal or after a fair catch". The first laws of 1845 made provision for a "try at goal" after touchdown. It further stipulated that "the ball must be place-kicked and not dropped". All three types of kick, the conversion, the place-kick and drop-kick have undergone numerous points values over the years and at one time the drop-kick was considered the ultimate being worth four points.

In the game's earliest beginnings all matches were decided by goals alone, that is successful place-kicks through the goalposts. In 1866 the Laws of Football as played at Rugby school read: "The match is won by either side obtaining 2 goals". The derivation of the word "try" is not generally known but it first appeared in print in a newspaper in 1873 and supposedly derives from spectators shouting "Try!" - ie. try at goal - whenever there was a touchdown.

The actual try as is known today got its first recognition in 1875 but purely as a decider when a match had ended in a draw. Should the teams have an equal number of goals, the winner would then be decided by the number of touchdowns. It was not till 1886 that goals and tries received points values according to the Laws. "A goal shall equal 3 points and a try 1 point; if the number of points is equal or no goal be kicked or try obtained, the match shall be drawn. When a goal is kicked from a try, the goal only is scored".

The IRFB stipulated no points from a penalty. Points values differed from union to union and it was only in 1905 that values became equal among all the unions.

Points values since introduction in 1886, have changed as follows:
Season Try Conversion Penalty Goal Drop-Goal Goal from a mark
1888 - 1891 1 2 2 3 3
1892 - 1893 2 3 3 4 4
1894 - 1905 3 2 3 4 4
1906 - 1947 3 2 3 4 3
1848 - 1971 3 2 3 3 3
1972 - 1977 4 3 3 3 3
1978 - 1991 4 2 3 3 -*
1992 - now 5 2 3 3 -*
* The goal from a mark ceased to exist when the Free Kick clause was introduced in 1978.

So it took the IRFB 85 years to concede that the try was of greater value than the original objective, a "goal".

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CoZania August 2007